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Museum Exhibition Honours Maori War Heroes

Monday 5 July, 2004

Museum Exhibition Honours Maori War Heroes

“The Maori Battalion was terrific. I take my hat off to them. They were sort of elite. When they came out of Cassino you could hear them, ‘Ka mate, ka mate!’ ” A 26 Battalion veteran, during the recent 60th Anniversary commemorations of the Battle of Cassino

The deeds of this distinguished fighting unit will again be honoured and remembered when 40 soldiers from Gisborne to Opotiki, who were decorated during World War Two, are commemorated in a Wall of Remembrance at Gisborne’s Tairawhiti Museum.

On Sunday 11 July, some 20 Maori Battalion veterans are expected to be among the 200 family members and visitors attending the commemoration. Accompanying the veterans will be the Minister of Maori Affairs, the Mayor of Gisborne, and the Te Hokowhitu-a-Tu kapa haka group who will perform the well-known war songs composed by Tuini Ngawai.

The visitors will be hosted jointly by the Museum and the Nga Taonga a Nga Tama Toa Trust, an entity made up of Maori Battalion C Company veterans and relatives.

Trust chairman and Maori Battalion veteran Mr Tini Glover said, “Only two of the 40 soldiers are still living, Major Harry Mackey and Sergeant Don Taylor, and we are hoping to have them here for the occasion. Having our fellow soldiers’ sons and daughters present will make it a special day. For those of us old soldiers who remain, we feel we will have done our mates proud.”

Dr Monty Soutar, who recently travelled with the 28 Maori Battalion veterans to Cassino, is writing a history of the Maori war effort in World War Two, on behalf of the Nga Taonga a Nga Tama Toa Trust.

The book follows on from an oral history project of the C Company, 28 Maori Battalion in which Dr Soutar was involved. For almost a decade, together with a research team, he has collected more than 400 hours of video footage, 4000 photographs and a large amount of related memorabilia.

Dr Soutar has had a lot to do with sifting out the citations and photographs of the men to be recognized. At the function he will give a talk on the types of honours and awards that were available through the British Army during the war.

“Unlike the American system,” Dr Soutar said, “awards under the British were more difficult to achieve. The Maori Battalion was the most decorated of all New Zealand units, and the citations bare testimony to the bravery of individuals and units within the Battalion.” Cont’d …

- 2 -

Conspicuous among the list of soldiers are Lieutenant-Colonels Reta Keiha and Peta Awatere. Both received the Military Cross and both commanded the Maori Battalion. Peta Awatere also received the Distinguish Service Order.

Pride of Place in the exhibition will be given to Second Lieutenant Te Moana-nui-a-Kiwa Ngarimu of Ruatoria who was killed in the Battle of Tebaga Gap in Tunisia in 1943. Ngarimu’s parents received on his behalf the only Victoria Cross awarded to a member of the Maori Battalion. Hoia Kaiwai, who is expected to be at the function, is the only man alive from Ngarimu’s platoon.

Dr Soutar said that the Ngarimu family has made the Victoria Cross available for display at the Museum for the occasion. “Colonel Awatere’s eldest daughter, living in Rotorua, is bringing his medals. And I expect many of the other soldiers’ decorations will be coming with their families. These days, having this many Maori veterans together in one place is rare. It will be a very moving and memorable day.” The powhiri begins at 10.00 am on Sunday 11 July.

Dr Monty Soutar is the 2004-2006 Fellow in Maori History, Ministry for Culture and Heritage. A feature from Dr Soutar’s World War Two project will appear later this year on www.nzhistory.net.nz

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